Factors That Cause Christian Camps to Fail and How Biblical Principles Can Change That Trend

Christian Camps across the United States fail financially as a result of abandoning biblical financial principles related to borrowing money. However, applying simple biblical principles can bring about significant change for the better. In recent years we have seen a number of Christian Camps close their doors and declare bankruptcy. While there are many factors that can lead a Christian Camp to the point of bankruptcy, one trend is clearly stands above the rest, indebtedness.

There are two primary reasons that Christian Camps borrow money. The first is far less publicized yet far more common. While many people may be aware that most Christian Camps enjoy their most robust activity during the summer season, fewer know that many camps go into debt in the winter season. Due to the need to maintain facilities and employees, many camps spend more resources than they bring in during the slower months of the year. As a result, it is a common practice for camps to take out short-term loans annually. These short-term loans are typically paid back as business begins to pick back up in the Spring and Summer Months. Borrowing money is costly. Interest rates for short-term loans vary greatly based on the economy and the credit rating of the organizing borrowing money. But no matter what the interest rates are, there is a cost involved with borrowing. This is why banks loan money, to make more in return.

The overall cost of running a camp grows exponentially as borrowing continues year after year. In a recent report submitted by the­­­­­ United Methodist Church, it is clear that the practice of borrowing year-after-year has caused four specific denominational camps to continually spend more than they bring in. While these camps have relied for some time on subsidies provided by the denomination, economic shortfalls have now caused the denomination to find its-self incapable on continuing these subsidies. The result is the sale of these camps in order to stop the ongoing budget shortfalls. In spite of concerted efforts on the part of the denomination, sufficient funds were not raised to save these camps from closing (SaveMOUCamps, web).

Similar difficulties have haunted other camps around the country. Canby Grove Conference Center in Canby Oregon recently sold as a direct result of its inability to fund its debt. According to oregonfaithreport.com, the 82-year-old ministry was at risk of bank foreclosure prior to the sale due to a series of combined short-term loans of along with a mortgage of $1.2 million (web). While this article suggests the cause of the foreclosure was a result of an economic downturn, we find that short-term loans combined with the mortgage were $3 million (Ericson, web). While Canby Grove may have been able to survive an economic downturn without its large loan payments, the downturn rendered the camp incapable of covering both operating expenses and loan payments. Banks simply would not loan them any more money.

Along with short-term loans, borrowing for the purpose of new construction is also a major cause of camps failing financially. In a recent interview with forty-seven year camping veteran and current camp Director, Bob Nunziato, two recent examples of the destructive nature camp indebtedness are noted. Nunziato identifies “[b]orrowed funds for building projects” as the primary reason for the closures of both Canby Grove and Pine Summit Christian Camps. Both camps borrowed large sums of money to complete building projects. In both cases, the ability to pay back that debt was based on the assumption that increased occupancy would provide the needed funds. Nunziato points out that “[o]ccupancy did not carry the debt”, resulting in foreclosure for one and sale of the other. Too many times the hope of increased business as a result of new facilities does not materialize.

The Bible contains important principles for each of us personally, and for those operating Christian Camps. It is important as ministry leaders to ensure our focus stays completely on Christ as our provider. When we borrow, our focus becomes divided. Solomon wisely points out that “[t]he borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (NASB, Proverbs 22:7). When we become enslaved to the bank, how can our focus be completely on Christ? The Apostle Paul urges us to “[o]we nothing to anyone except to love one another” (Romans 13:8). While it is not our intention here to delve deeply into the translation or emphatic nature of Paul’s statement, it could be understood as either a suggestion or a command. Either way, the meaning is clear, debt is to be avoided.

It is often tempting for ministry leaders to fall into the trap of borrowing money to build new facilities as a marketing strategy. After all, if we have a beautiful new facility, wouldn’t more guests be attracted to come? Using human reason alone would tend to lead us down this path of thinking. Many Christian ministries base their ability to pay off new construction loans on this idea. In some cases, it works, but there are no guarantees. Nunziato suggests that we may be better served if we “allow him [God] to provide the funds before we spend them, not after.” He goes on to explain his philosophy that we risk “presuming” upon God when we move forward with borrowed money on a particular project without the funds on hand to pay for it. It is critically important that we follow God in what he desires rather than inviting him to bless our efforts after the fact. Nunziato explains the simple principle of knowing God’s will based, in part, on whether or not he provides the funds in advance.

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